Illinois Women’s Gymnastics opens season in exhibition
November 11, 2019
The Illinois women’s gymnastics team opened its season Saturday at Huff Hall. The team competed in the Orange & Blue exhibition alongside the men’s gymnastics team.
All the events were within each team; there were no co-ed events, but the teams were split up into “orange” and “blue” squads based on which events the gymnasts competed in.
Junior Nicole Biondi started off the afternoon on the uneven bars against senior Morgan Bixler. Biondi got the point for the Orange team, as it went up 1-0.
Junior Kylie Noonan completed her first floor exercise routine of the season, competing against senior Karen Howell. Noonan’s routine put the blue team on the board, who came into floor exercise facing a 2-0 deficit.
When it came time for the balance beam, the exhibition was tied 2-2. Freshman Julia Waight and junior Rachel Borden competed on the balance beam to wrap up the first rotation. The orange team won the point, since both Waight and Borden were listed on the orange team roster.
Heading into the uneven bars in the second rotation, the teams were once again tied. Freshmen Lexi Powe and Mia Takekawa faced off, where Takekawa got the point to put the orange team up 4-3.
Closing out the second rotation for the women was the balance beam. Senior Brittany Jones and junior Kasey Meeks competed for the orange and blue teams, respectively. Meeks scored the point for the blue team, who took their first lead of the evening at 5-4 following the event. Following the second rotation, the blue team had a 6-4 lead.
“It felt really good,” Meeks said. “I was surprised because I fell, but I think my performance made me get the point, so it felt really good.”
Starting off in the third rotation, senior Rae Balthazor and freshman McKenzie Eddy competed in floor exercise, and the orange team cut its deficit to 1, down 6-5.
When sophomore Shaylah Scott and Noonan competed in balance beam in the middle of the third rotation, the orange team was tied with the blue team at 6-6. Scott won the point for the orange team, giving them a 7-6 edge with seven events left in the evening.
Heading into the fourth rotation, the teams were tied at 7-7. To start the fourth rotation on the balance beam, the blue team had an 8-7 edge.
Takekawa and freshman Arayah Simons competed in the balance beam, and Takekawa tied it up at 8-8.
In the uneven bars, Karen Howell scored the point to put the orange team up 10-8 heading into the final event.
The final event was between the men’s team seniors Jordan Kovach and Hamish Carter. The orange team won, 10-9, in the end.
“Being first up of everyone, scary, but I feel like me and Morgan did a really good job,” Biondi said. “(It) kind of set us up (because the) orange team won, so hopefully set us up for the win.”
The scoring for the exhibition varied from other meets, as no numeric scores were handed out. Guest judges, including Illinois soccer players Lauren Stibich and Ashleigh Lefevre, waved either an orange flag or a blue flag to indicate which team earned the point. Fighting Illini Athletics additionally had blue and orange pieces of paper fans picked up and waved around to attempt to influence the judges.
Even though the meet has no merit on the season standings, head coach Nadalie Walsh thought the team got off to a solid start.
“This is an exhibition, and we wanted them to enjoy it,” Walsh said. “I didn’t see jitters, I saw excitement. I think I have a really great group of competitors.”
The Illini have no more meets this year and next compete in the new year at Missouri on Jan. 4.